“The line separating good and evil runs through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Craving scares, the hell out of every addict who desires to live a sober life. It intimidates, dominates, and penetrates every conscious space. An addict can willfully determine in a 12-step meeting a course of sobriety with the best of intentions, only to experience a total meltdown of resolve before leaving the parking lot. Craving is powerful. Addicts learn to hate themselves for the junkie worm that dominates their thoughts and drives their behavior to actions that ultimately leave them empty, lonely and destroyed inside.
On Tuesday evening March 13, 2021 beginning at 5pm in the greater vicinity of Atlanta, Georgia, a young man tortured with sexual cravings took his hate of self to the streets and into a massage parlor. He said he was committed to purging his demons by assailing those he believed triggered the junkie worm inside that drove him insane. Was he addicted to sex? Experts argue different views defining what addictive behavior is and what it is not. At the scene of the massacre it didn’t matter. The victims’ families were distraught and destroyed by the insane behavior of one person trying to kill the maddening cravings that drove his behavior. The end result is unbelievable and irreversible devastation of human life for everyone involved. Addiction, compulsive sexual behavior, or however you might choose to describe it contributed to the psychological pathology that tragically altered the reality of living for scores of people who are now left without their loved ones. They only wish that something could have been done to avoid this horrible loss.
Craving is the common thread to every addictive behavior. It alters the thinking of every addict. We often think of cravings associated with alcohol and other destructive drugs. Yet, cravings dominate people’s thoughts around food, sugar, caffeine, relationships, controlling others, gambling, media entertainment, and a host of other experiences in life. Each drug of choice whether it be substance or process creates an artificial spike or dopamine hit. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that you cannot put your foot into a river at the same place. So it is with the dopamine hit that comes from a drug of choice. You will never experience the same hit twice in the exact way. Craving takes over with a desire to recreate what you cannot experience. It becomes an insatiable thirst that is never quenched. The junkie worm takes over impulse control and destroys the ability to say no. The orbitofrontal cortex is skewed and is unable to correctly envision the future. When triggered by craving, mood alteration is the overwhelming priority. Under the influence of craving an addict will see a fix where there is none. It alters their world view and prevents them from ever seeing a downside or consequences to addictive behavior. Eventually, like a slinky that is stretched beyond it limits and will never return to its original capacity, craving drives an addict’s brain from seeking to feel good to just seeking to avoid misery.
Cravings are triggered when you are re-exposed to the drug itself. Managing exposure requires the development of strong boundaries. There are environmental settings that need to be declared as out of bounds. These limits must not be compromised. It takes great determination to live in consultation and accountability to successfully meet this requirement. Substances are one type of challenge. Yet, when the addiction is a process, like codependent behavior toward another or workaholism, the limits and boundaries must be employed in an environment where the triggers may be far more pervasive. It will require sorting and sifting your vulnerability with the help and accountability of recovery support.
Cravings are sparked by addictive cues which can be vast. Smells, music, voice tone, seasons of the year, sightings, and a host of other possible cues can provoke addictive urge. Addicts in recovery create accountability around certain geographic areas to which they won’t expose themselves because the area has become a cue to addictive response. Working with a mentor/sponsor is required to flush out every cue and create a source of accountability and a commitment to recognize cues that trigger craving for drugs of choice.
Cravings are activated with environmental stress. Financial, work, and relational stress will activate uncertainty and insecurity which generates the urge to numb out and escape. Housing and home environment is critical for an addict’s management of craving. One of the important stabilizing forces in addict recovery is a strong sober living environment. After inpatient treatment addicts are too vulnerable to isolation. Relapse most often occurs when an addict returns to an isolated environment exclusive from other addicts. In a sober living setting, when an addict experiences victim posture or other forms of distorted thinking, others in the sober environment can check and challenge distorted cognitions that bring the addict who experiences craving back to centered living and grounded thoughts. The value of creating in the home setting an environment that promotes recovery cannot be overstated. When this is overlooked, relapse is predictable. Addicts must be connected to a community that thrives with inclusivity. Communities that form around exclusivity become cliques. True recovery communities are always reaching out to extend themselves. The 12-step community that flourishes aims not only to achieve personal sobriety but is also invested in the self-development of every participant toward being a better overall person in every aspect of life.
A safe community for addict recovery promotes insulation with others whose common ground is coping with craving. Isolation and insularity destroy the community environment. A healthy home environment inspires listening carefully to other addicts who have learned to manage craving. It encourages addicts to listen to their own craving and uncover the legitimate need that must be met in a healthy way. It fosters mature self-parenting skills. It endorses meaningful daily rituals that cultivate centered living and stress management. It pushes for peer support and encourages creating purposeful goals and focusing on service work.
Craving pushes every addict toward crossing the line of destructive behavior. Cravings can be ongoing throughout the journey of recovery whether it be substance or process addictions. It is possible to avoid the tragedy of destroyed lives by managing cravings. How sad we all are that one tortured soul last Tuesday never knew that he could transform the junkie worm that persecuted his soul into a butterfly that could release his agony into a life of freedom. We should all take time for silence to recognize what Solzhenitsyn declared, that “the line separating good from evil runs through the heart of every human being and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart”.
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